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In Greece, Italy, the Vatican, and Croatia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued his attempts to distance European governments from China and its investment projects.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, long notorious for firing baseless accusations against China, moved up another notch in his China-smearing campaign during a five-day European tour in Greece, Italy, the Vatican, and Croatia.
From the COVID-19 fight to religious freedom, from 5G to the Belt, and Road Initiative (BRI), the top U.S. diplomat's relentless China-bashing rhetoric was met with criticism from senior officials in these countries, and solemn condemnations from the Chinese embassy.
Self-centered political motivation
Pompeo began his tour in Thessaloniki city (Greece), where he was received by nearly 2,000 protesters carrying signs reading "The hawk of war is not welcome in our country", and "The murderers of the peoples are not welcome."
On Wednesday, Pompeo hosted a symposium on religious freedom at the U.S. embassy to the Holy See in Rome. Pope Francis was invited to the event but did not attend, fearing that the Trump campaign would use him as a political tool in the 2020 presidential election.
Asked if the event "amounted to exploitation of the Pope" by Italy's ANSA news agency, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's secretary for relations with states, said "Yes, that is precisely why the Pope will not meet American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo."
Pompeo renewed his smearing of China at the event, claiming "Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today," while blaming "the Chinese Communist Party", and "all communist regimes."
The Chinese embassy in Italy, as a response, condemned Pompeo's statements in a press release on Thursday, saying his statements "overflow with ideological prejudice, and ignorance about China."
"Today, Chinese citizens of all ethnic groups enjoy an unprecedented sense of satisfaction, happiness, and security. The assessment of whether the situation of human rights, religious freedom, and cyber security in China is good or not is up to those with the foremost right to speak on the matter -- namely the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, and certainly not any foreign politician," the embassy's statement said.
Quoting an Italian proverb that says "Sow the wind, and you shall reap the whirlwind," the Chinese embassy urged Pompeo to stop his grandstanding as soon as possible.
To cover up Washington's slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and deflect U.S. public attention from other pressing domestic issues, Pompeo has once again made China a scapegoat during the trip.
"Recovering from the virus should also mean accountability for the Chinese Communist Party," said Pompeo in a press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, attempting to shift the blame for inability of his own government in protecting the American people from the novel coronavirus.
Two days ahead of Pompeo's visit to Croatia, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for ruining the international reputation of the United States, and called him a "rabble-rouser," Croatian national news agency Hina reported.
"Donald Trump has ruined it all. He incites hatred, provokes, and that's it," Milanovic said, adding that Pompeo's visit was to sell war planes.
In an analysis article titled "How the world will look after the coronavirus pandemic" published by Foreign Policy in March, Kori Schake, deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said "the United States will no longer be seen as an international leader because of its government's narrow self-interest, and bungling incompetence."
Pompeo has long sought to persuade European countries to avoid deeper economic cooperation with China, and Chinese companies, citing unfounded charges of China's economic presence in other countries as "not for sincere partnerships", and that Huawei's 5G technology poses high security risk.
In response, Di Maio said that "Italy is well conscious of the need to ensure the security of 5G networks. It is our absolute priority."
On Thursday, Huawei Italy announced it will open a Cybersecurity, and Transparency Center in Rome next year, allowing customers, the government, and independent third-party testing organizations to perform fair, objective, and independent security tests, according to the company's spokesperson.
"I am speechless that a country the size of the United States attacks another country through the demolition, via groundless accusations, of a company of that country," Huawei Italy president Luigi De Vecchis said at the event on Thursday.
In his interviews with Croatian media, Pompeo continued peddling his anti-China cliches, which was described by Hina as "working on globally reducing the Chinese influence."
As a response to Pompeo's suspicions over the BRI during a joint press conference, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic called the China-proposed global development initiative "smart."
"They were very smart to devise this format of the relationship, and the political dialogue, and the economic framework with the countries of Central, and Eastern Europe," Plenkovic said.
"We are fully aware of all the aspects of this policy, and our objective is to have a level playing field when it comes to both the relationship between Croatia, and the other members of the European Union, and China, and its market, as well as the Chinese presence here in accordance with the rules that exist on the global level, and which put us in the same market position," Plenkovic said, rebutting charges that Chinese investments in the region are "predatory."
In March last year, Italy, and China signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly advance the construction of the Belt, and Road during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the country, a sign of the increasing popularity of the development initiative in Europe.
Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, warned last month that the current U.S. administration "needs to stop distorting, and exaggerating China's actions,", and stop viewing China as a strategic competitor because China "does not pose an existential threat to Americans, our country or our way of life."
He called on the world's two largest economies to work together against such common threats to mankind as climate change, terrorism, global economic crisis, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.